Providing an Unschool Challenge Enhances Student Learning! with Art Smith

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Art Smith as an innovative educator who is instrumental in changing the structure and practices of traditional learning. He has spent the past 20 years teaching History in Middle School. From the very moment he set foot in a classroom he’s sought to change the traditional classroom environment, removing desks and shifting to tables. These changes progressively developed over time from simple classroom changes to now, working as part of a novel, pilot school concept, based in experiential and project-based learning.

The Liberty Academy focuses on a reverse internship structure in which students can explore career paths and choose their learning paths. The careers are based on the cluster concept and include: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Communication Arts, Human Services, Health Services, Business and Building Pathways.

Each semester, six to eight community business partners team up with the school to create unique projects. Then, student groups of eight to twelve youth must creatively tackle and complete these projects. Students are exposed to the opportunity to learn many traditional educational skills and theories while working a single project in real world scenarios. This method of connecting skills, lessons, and work is unique.

At the conclusion of the semester students have learned more than just traditional concepts. They have developed soft skills like teamwork, problem solving, communication and collaboration. They’ve built their portfolios and have an external network of business professionals, ranging from corporations to nonprofit organizations.

As an example, one of the most recent initiatives was a tiny house project for homeless veterans. Students learned architecture and design while creating these homes for veterans and, in addition, decided to create artwork to hang or place inside these tiny homes. In a past semester, one of their students worked on a USDA project and developed a mechanism, now patented and used by the USDA.

This education and business partnership is beneficial for all. Smith hopes that the methodology and infrastructure pioneered, adjusted and developed by the Liberty School can be adapted and used across the country. He believes that in order to change education, this business/school relationship plays a key component. Businesses are not finding the young adults they need to fill job openings and students aren’t getting from school what they need to succeed in business. By collaboratively tackling these issues, over time, the benefits are exponential.

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